… we sang as we hurtled (trundled) across the border into Spain. Our last new country! Joining the retired masses for some winter sun.
First stop the Dali museum. Top tip from Matt’s work mate, and it really is worth a visit. There are giant eggs on the roof, enough said!
We were in need of a good campsite for showers and to get our bearings – hello Aquarius! Not the type of site we would normally go for but a) lots of campsites were now closed and b) it was in the right place, on the huge sandy beach at the Bay of Roses. We surprised ourselves by how excited we all felt when we turned up and there was some life – kids, entertainment, people everywhere. It was in full swing and a nice change from the end of season blues we had been experiencing. We got our monies worth but quickly realised it wasn’t somewhere we wanted to stay so the next day we left to see some more of the Costa Brava and get back to a bit of free camping. A bit of zooming in on Google maps (yup, that involved!) we realised that only a short drive away we could find coves, roman ruins, woods and some parking etc
We’d finally left the Med and were heading inland to Aix-en-Provence hoping we’d not left it too late for the weather. It was getting harder to find campsites open as we were well and truly out of season now, so since there were no useful looking aires in Aix we picked an open campsite from ACSI which had a bus into town. We picked the site for a base for a daytrip but it turned out to have a lovely sleepy French campsite vibe. It also happened to be right next to really interesting countryside with loads going on, all in the shadow of Cezanne’s favourite subject, Mont Sainte-Victoire.
We had our daytrip to Aix, which was nice, as the last time Jayne and I visited was about ten years ago. In our eagerness we’d not planned anything specific and town visits without an activity have started to feel a bit empty to us these days. I think there were galleries we should have taken to kids to but we wandered and it was all a little unfulfilling. It didn’t help that I’d been feeling pretty rough for a few days and was suffering. When you’re travelling together and relying on each other all the time, it’s really obvious when someone’s “not right” and it was my turn for definite!
One good thing was that we bought the kids a chess set. They had been keen on getting chess for some reason and chose it from the shelf of assorted games! It felt too good to be true so we set ourselves up for various bouts of clarifying “No….that can only move diagonally” and “No…pawns can only do that on their first go” etc. etc….
We left the campsite relaxed and wondering if we should’ve been there longer, but we were again scared of the weather going downhill (SPOILER : it never did really!). We decided to go for a walk up one of the nearby hills and then head to the Luberon (not a robot film bad guy, just a nice bit of Provence…who knew!) as recommended by a nice Danish lady on Pampelonne beach.
The Luberon is a big national park of villages and countryside, north of Aix and east of Avignon. Famous for being the setting of “A Year in Provence” and “A Good Year”. Jayne also spotted that it had another bikepath from an old railway…this is our kinda place! We hadn’t really got a plan as such and just headed for a free stop in a village called Lacoste (nothing to do with 80s polos sadly!) which seemed to be the right driving distance. It turned out to be this crazy old village topped by a chateau that had been the Marquis de Sade’s and was now Pierre Cardin’s (It’s used for concerts and the like now…nowhere near as debauched!). We had a bit of a night time walk up through the really really quiet village up to the top and the only people we saw were a few American students that were there for the art college…that was it…can you imagine travelling from the US to some tiny hillside village in Provence for college…bizzare!
The next day we moved to another free carpark stop in Bonnieux there were a few things that happened in Bonnieux, first of all we had a lovely day. Lacoste had nothing other than beautiful old buildings and a few American teenagers. Bonnieux was a very French village with the usual stuff, and luckily we arrived on market day so saw the best of it. We ambled around bought a few bits and pieces..including some very expensive (but incredibly nice) nougat…and for the main event…what could be more French than a visit to a bread museum (yes…i’m not sure what we were thinking either!). Well, what could make it more French would be the lady opening it (after the long lunch break) telling me they would be opening ten minutes late, and then walking out and standing next to me to smoke for ten minutes before opening…awesome. A great day had, and a brilliant free place to park, just near the centre in a carpark right next to the church. Some days being in a motorhome just can’t compare, as you can be right in the middle of it all for nothing or at least next to nothing and then drive away when you feel like it.
For all that positivity there were a few negatives bubbling away, the first was that we had admitted to ourselves that our fridge wasn’t working on gas at all anymore. This was a problem as at these free stops we had no electricity, not good, especially as I have injections (long boring story) that need to be kept cold, really not good. Our plan was to throw money at it rather than derail ourselves for a repair. So we’d buy a 12v coolbox for the essentials and my jabs. Hopefully with the double leisure batteries and solar panel we’d be tickety boo. Sorted…kinda.
The other negative was that although physically I was feeling better I’d been feeling “clinically fed up” about the rest of the trip. I think it was a combination of realising that we were onto the last bit of the trip, that we didn’t really have a plan, that we had to start thinking about ferries home and places to live and all the rest of it, autumn, cold, empty towns and villages with closed shops. Obviously this is deeply deeply self involved stuff as I’m on a massive holiday but it was really stopping us planning past Avignon as it was all feeling a bit much. Luckily Jayne is a good Matt tamer/shrink and all that it really took was for us to make a more long term plan for our remaining time. Once we’d done that things felt a bit better, we also started to work on the stuff we needed to sort for our return to the UK. It seems silly but for months we’d been able to ignore all but the next few days and it had been great, but we’d got to the point we needed to face reality again.
The Plan : Head down into Spain and try and get as far a Valencia, then up to San Sebastian and the Atlantic coast of France to the ferry at St Malo. Done. Onward. etc.
The next day we woke up in our carpark, bought bread (you have to…it’s France), and went off in search of the bike path Jayne had found. It was lovely, running along the middle of the Luberon’s flat bottom (stop smirking at the back) between vines and arable farms and all mostly level thanks to it being an old railway. Again Aidan managed an amazing 23km and even more amazingly so did his mum!!!
Our next stop (after shopping for a coolbox near Avignon) was Chateauneuf-de-Pape. Famous wine region, pretty village, and most importantly: a free place to park for the night. Right at the top of the village next to the remains of Chateau-de-Pape. The hotels must have been top dollar but here we were parked up watching the sun go down over the Rhone Valley for nowt (I promise I’ll stop sounding like a skin flint soon!). The next day we wandered about the village and picked up some wine (you have to…it’s France) and listened to the choir in the big church. Then up to the van for a cuppa before heading off.
The next place we wanted to see was Pont du Gard, a big Roman Aqueduct west of Avignon. We’d decided to go for a campsite rather than continue the run of free stops (See, not always a skin flint!). We were hoping we could coax some life into the fridge with power and the kids could have some more space to play in. I found somewhere open and we headed off. The campsite turned out to be amazing. Right next to the river and 800m from THE PONT. It was in the trees and all the pitches were random shapes and sizes to fit around the woods. We moved three times before we settled on one we liked but once we got in (getting our van in was FUN!) we got the hammock out, the slackline out and fully OWNED that pitch!!!
We really settled into our little forest home and ended up staying four nights. We also found our first proper Geocache. After the slightly abortive attempt in Italy I’d almost forgotten about it but the fun we all had hunting about for this little container was a bit addictive. Over the next few days Aidan and I hunted down a few in the area and they led us to some amazing Roman aqueduct remains that we’d never have found otherwise. We started to get a bit hooked. Sadly Anna didn’t have as much fun, she had a bit of a sickness bug and her recovery was one of the reasons we stayed for the four nights, we wanted to give her plenty of time to get back to her usual shouty self ;O)
Eventually we tore ourselves away from the woods and headed south with a quick stop in Narbonne and then to try and see the Narbonnaise Natural Park we went for a stop in Guisson. It was on a Marina, and windy! Everything was a bit dead as again we were well past the end of the season so we got up the next morning and headed south again for Spain….we were well and truly ready to chase the sun now!!!
How can I compete with a blog post that ends in a birthday? Well I guess I have the south of France to play with so at least maybe the photos will be good ;O)
We left Italy with me quite excited. We had fallen for Italy after a bit of a rocky start, but I was really looking forward to some time in Provence and the French riviera, with all the familiarity that being in France gives you.
We left our lovely marina stop and got back on the glorious E80 through more tunnels and bridges towards the border. One final biglietto stop and then we were in the world of peage (roads are a big part of our life right now…this stuff matters!). Almost immediately we felt a difference. The roads were bigger and busier, it’s not that the Italian side had been empty but France felt like the fast lane. All the development and coastal sprawl of Monaco, Cannes, and Nice makes this border feel far more definite than most others we’d crossed. So we crossed feeling excited and bullish and with an, in retrospect, crazy idea of coffee on the front in Monaco. I dived off the motorway and with little planning tried heading downhill. The main tunnel through town was closed. Traffic was bad. We ended up on a little road winding down with parked cars either side. Then very…very….nearly got stuck! We made it through with a couple of centimetres either side…and scuttled off back to the motorway with our tails between our legs and me a little stressed out. Monaco in a 7 metre motorhome…JUST SAY NO…it sounds so obvious now you say it!
We ploughed on, looking for a place to stop, feeling a bit frustrated that there didn’t seem to be anything. Through Nice and along the built up shoreline. In the end we stopped at a massive Casino supermarket in Cagnes-sur-Mer and tried to work out what to do next. Everything seemed a bit better after baguettes and humous (the first humous for weeks…it makes me faint thinking about the deprivation!) and we made a plan to drive a chunk further and miss out on the fanciness of Cannes etc and jump straight to the less built up bit of the coast near Saint-Maxime.
We got to the campsite after more driving in a day than I think we’d done before. Not what we’d planned but when we pulled up the campsite made us forget it all. It wasn’t shiney or fancy but it was relaxed, we had a lovely pitch under the trees, and the beach was just at the end of the drive. Checkin was just a guy who put his beer down long enough to tell us to find a pitch and tell him later. We hadn’t really thought about how long to stay but it was all so relaxing we gave ourselves three nights there to chill out. We hung out on the beach, took the little bus into Saint Maxime on market day (love a french market even if the cheese stall was a bit intimidating!), and caught up on the laundry! Bliss…except the laundry bit…oh and the continuing battle against mosquitoes!!
Our next move was a bit of a memory lane trip. We visited a place called Gigaro beach last June and loved it so we headed back for the day. Its on the other side of the headland with St Tropez on one side, Gigaro on the other and Pampelonne beach on the end. It couldn’t be more different than St Tropez though, sleepy and chilled. After a day relaxing on the beach and a bit of a trip down memory lane we headed to a big motorhome aire, just behind Pampelonne beach.
I didn’t get a good impression of the beach when we visited last year. Too big, too hot, blah blah. This time however, we were at the opposite end, the season was properly wound down, and the weather was juuuuuuuuuust right! As has been a popular refrain…”We intended to stay one night and stayed…..more”. We ended up staying in Pampelonne for three nights and filled the time with floating about in the flat still water with the kids improving their swimming and visiting the lighthouse that we could see beaming out at night. Oh…and also stressing a bit about the van fridge.
Motorhome fridges are a miracle of modern science…or maybe an overcomplicated pain in the arse depending on how you look at it. They work on mains, 12v, or gas, and it’s the gas that lets us be off hookup and still have a nice cool fridge. We’d been getting a bit of a smell from the burning gas for a while but it was at Pampelonne that we had to admit that it just wasn’t cooling the fridge as well as it had been. Eeeep. More on that in the following post.
We’d been trying to work out what to do next. The plan had always been to head inland towards Aix-en-Provence before working across to Avignon and then south towards Spain but we were struggling to tear ourselves away from the coast. We ended up leaving Pampelonne and giving ourselves one last beach stop at a place (amusingly) called La Tour Fondue (cheese tower….tower of melted cheese???). We only stayed one night but there were beautiful beaches and Jayne informed me there was a naturist island nearby…and ferries…not sure why she told me…errrr…
Anyway…After almost a month on the Riviera, Italian and French, it was hard to drag ourselves away, it’s all just too damn nice, but we figured if we we wanted to see more of Provence and have any time left for Spain we needed to buck up and get going.
With that lecture we’d given ourselves ringing through our heads we set off snailing our way inland towards Aix…
We stayed at Peter’s a day or so longer than intended even though there wasn’t much we could do locally without a car and were being harassed by mosquitoes. Also Aidan had a bad cold and spent a whole day lying on the sofa watching Octonauts. So, after six days of being in one place and just taking it easy absorbing some Italian life we were definitely ready to move on. We headed for Verona (via the wine co-op to stock up on a little bit more Soave!). There is a lovely city camperstop which we punted for – fairly quiet and tree lined by a canal. We put Aidan in the pushchair as he still wasn’t tiptop and had a moochy couple of hours looking around. What a beautiful city! Not too crowded or hectic, just a nice place to spend some time. We returned to the van for dinner and a rest then headed back out in the evening to see the castle and the medieval bridge as it got dark. Good fun! Although a few late night bevvies would have topped it off nicely – ahhh alas.
The next morning we set off early to see the main square and wander the shops and small streets – standard old city stuff! We should have made the effort to climb the tower, but carrying a 3 year old (which is inevitable) and Aidan not feeling his best we thought better of it and just enjoyed our massive fruit salads from the market whilst watching a guy DJing chilled funky music. We finished up with an hour in the park and were able to get out of our carpark before the time ticked over 24hours!
Our onward plans were a bit fuzzy. We hadn’t decided on a route for the next stage of our trip (and this was really feeling like a new stage) and so we drove out of Verona with only a vague idea to continue South into the hills. From there we’d make a better plan! So we drove about 2 hours into the Emilia-Romagna region and stopped at a free stop on the edge of a small non descript town. We waved at the Ferrari factory as we went through Maranello! As seemed to be the norm now in Italy a lot of concentration is required while driving the bumpy, slightly too narrow roads with very twisty exits and slip roads – poor Matt, he was ready to stop!
But here we are, in our lovely wooded carpark and we made dinner and had a little walk. That evening Matt and I made a plan and decided not to head any further South, but start to go across to the West coast (the Cinque Terre national park) and follow it round in to Southern France. This will give us a chunk of time to explore Spain as well – and not be too far to get home. Home?! Wow… yes…. this was another thing that was dawning on us and started to feel weird. We were over half way on our trip. Even though there are 2 months in front of us the downward slope is all too real. We don’t have any planned dates for anything like meeting people – it’s all just open and we need to choose how we end this!
Enjoy the moment! Of course its so simple – sort of. The next morning we tried to do out first Geocache in the parkland by the van, but there wasn’t a cache to actually find, just an ancient tree. We wandered into the town which was all go with the massive Saturday morning market! Then we met a lovely Italian man who parked up that morning with his family. He came over for a chat and after hearing our plans confirmed our ideas were on the right track, and gave us some suggestions etc! Grazie! Raring to go we packed up and started the one and a half hour drive West to one of the only campsites en route that we could find. Post lunch drive = sleeping kids. Perfect!
This was our first real feel of Italian countryside – rolling hills, rivers etc. In the distance we could see more dramatic rocky hills. For some reason even though we were pretty close to our destination I started looking at campercontact for any cheap/free stops around the place we were approaching. Maybe the drive was feeling long again. I spotted that you are able to stay overnight in the carpark at the top of the massive rocky outcrop Bismantova we’d just driven past – see pics! We U-turned and drove the 5 mins up the hill. Being a Saturday the carpark was full so we did what everyone else was doing and parked on the grass verge further down and went for a wander. It all felt very exciting. This was a mecca for climbers and there were lots of groups of people everywhere. There was a bar/cafe a the top and loads of picnic tables and national walking trails. We made dinner in the van and waited until the evening, when people were leaving, to grab a spot in the carpark! There were about 5 other campers too – so felt safe – a great find! Matt felt quite ill the next morning after getting Aidan’s cold so wasn’t up to much and we decided to just stay all day and a second night. Our biggest##### weakness with “freecamping” is not having enough fresh water, and as we hadn’t been to a campsite or seen a tap for a couple of days we were low. But the cafe sold bottled water so we bought that (along with coffee and croissants for brekkie!)
Levanto was our next stop (as recommended to us by carpark man) and we set off in the morning for the 2 hour drive – hoping the buy some lunch on the way. The drive was amazing/hard work! It was a good road but was winding round, up and down and all through the dramatic hills of the national parc Tosca-Emiliano to the coast. It just went on and on! Also, this was the first time we noticed Autumn as all the trees were changing colours, so there were beautiful multicoloured hillsides. We had a pitstop in Fivizzano and hoped to get a pizza. But as seems to be the case in most of rural Europe , no-one is ever around and everything is a bit closed! We went to the bakery and each got a slice of Foccacia instead… and this was the first of many Foccacias over the next week or so! We were now entering Foccacia region… who knew?!
The first 2 campsites we tried in Levanto were full. FULL!! It’s the beginning of October?! Anyhoo, Matt called the third one and there was space. We loved Pian De Piche – we were housed in the extra bit of green at the front of the campsite which mean’t we had more space than the standard pitches (the Italians love to pack everyone in) It was nice to camp with a mixture of campers again and a younger crowd, not just rows of motorhomes (I will have to expand on this another time in my Love/Hate motorhomers blog – this post is going to be long enough as it is!!) We made a good camp and didn’t really feel like leaving too soon – we did 4 nights. We are definitely enjoying our longer stays in places. Levanto is lovely and felt very Italian with people zipping about in Ape’s and scooters, and we made the most of our days there on the beach and eating Foccacia. It was the first time we’d seen the sea since Rugen. That feels a while ago now! Our big day was seeing the Cinque Terra which is a collection of 5 very old coastal villages built into the cliffs along the coastal coves. You can’t drive there but there is a train connecting them all and also the coastal path and boats. This was a brilliant day. Beautiful weather and and great atmosphere. We chose a boat back from the last village to Monterosso where we had a swim before getting the train back for dinner at the campsite. (oh and more Foccacia. Seriously you need to try it!)
Italy was fast becoming a cliche of wine, coffee and food. (Which is cheap!) We were really getting into the swing of it and it felt like we were on a proper holiday 🙂 Looking back on it, we think it was a bit of a jolt coming into Italy after so many weeks travelling Northern Europe. We couldn’t put our finger on it at the time, but Matt put it really well when he said that Germany/Austria were all about doing things – so much to see, especially for children, that was easy to find and access. We left on a real high (literally on the cable car!) and it now felt quite different and we hadn’t done much research into good things to see and do. It feels more about soaking up the culture and just travelling around!
From Levanto we went to Finale Ligure on the Italian Riviera using the toll motorway E80 which was an amazing journey. Running parallel to the sea you are either on a bridge or going through a tunnel in order to get through the hills quickly. Our beach crawl continued with a stop off at Varazze for some great swimming in big waves – we just picked a place en route that was about the right time to make the sandwiches and it worked out perfectly. Our camperstop that night was right at the end of Finale Ligure beach where we parked up right up against the rocks looking out to sea. This was amazing until night time came and the wind started up and the waves crashed onto the rocks! I did not sleep well at all!
So the next morning was a big day for me… the last day of being in my 30’s! Woah… how do you get your head around that? I thought about it all day – it was actually quite a relief being 40 the following day as I didn’t have to worry about it anymore! Anyway, we all had a perfect type of day – enjoying the promenade, coffee, wandering around the shops (still not buying anything! – Oh apart from a volleyball… but it’s for the kids – that doesn’t count!) Pizza and swimming in the sea! Then a free stop at a marina further up the coast with another sea view. Goodnight 39.. it’s been a pleasure x
So 40 – here we are. Not much going on although I did get a free hot shower in the marina showers that were only for boat people – ha! (free is becoming my favourite word) Also good phone calls home\inlaws (hello mum!!) But this marina stop was all about the awesome bike path that runs along a disused railway all the way to San Remo. The following day we set off to hopefully make it to San Remo. We planned that Matt would cycle all the way back alone and then bring the van to meet us. But my little winner of a boy decided (after a pizza lunch) that he wanted to cycle all the way back! 23km altogether. What a stunning ride with sweeping views along the coast, through railway tunnels and past little cafes for tired cyclists. Very tired and happy Seppos and another free nights sleep by the sea 🙂 They say life begins at 40 right?!
It was so nice to see my folks. Meeting them had been something we’d known we were going to do from the outset so it was one of those long term things we’d all been looking forward to, like the weeks we spent in the Black Forest with the Robbos and Hanlos. It’s nice to have some longer term things coming up as our planning is so short term, only up to the next few days (or maybe that afternoon!) and the bigger things give something longer term to look forward to.
Anyway…we met the Gramps at Mario Village (not Nintendo themed sadly!), chosen more because we could all get there in a day’s travel from where we were. First impressions were of a little holiday park that was taking itself a little too seriously for the end of season…fabric wristbands, three pages of paperwork on check in, but it turned out to be lovely. Right near a lovely lake, half empty, and best of all, a beautiful heated swimming pool! The pool was a real bonus as the kids had missed out for a while and it was perfect for them. The kids were so excited to have their grandparents with them, and lets not forget Fizzy (the wire haired fox terrier) who is now a good size for Aidan to hold his lead….alllll the time.
We had a good few days there before heading towards Lake Garda, a few highlight were:
– First night pizza in the campsite restaurant, basic but perfect, cheap pizzas, cheap wine…lovely!
– The pool…with worm slide…yes…worm slide!
– The kids making fruit pizza with Grandma, appropriate but unorthodox, fruit and yogurt on a water melon base.
– Cycling, Dad and I got out for a lovely ride, only marred a little by me having a slight altercation with a wing mirror (gained some good arm scars though!)
The plan was to spend a few days moving south and around Garda before meeting my cousin Peter for the weekend. Our first step was a lovely drive through the mountains to the north end of Garda, which is VERY dramatic, all kinds of geology going on all over the place. We drove a fun rode down to and along the easten edge of the lake (the road on the West side looked even more fun but sat nav clocked it as about two hours longer).
The stop we’d chosen was at Macalsine was really tight and right in the olive trees. We had a walk down to the water and saw about fifteen members of the Macalsine paragliders club come into land on a tiny patch of land reclaimed from the lake. It was, however, a little disappointing when they all got down cleanly…although I guess not for them! That evening Dad and I snuck out to a place right next to the campsite called Speckstube which was a german style beer garden place, nice to get a final weisse beer before getting too far away from the border.
The stop wasn’t really worth another night so we moved on the next morning, although it was a bit of a shame we didn’t get to explore Macalsine as it looked lovely. We decided to head to the south end of Garda but with a stop at an Olive Oil producer on the way. The drive was a bit crazy as I still wasn’t used to the Italian roads. We got there not sure what to expect but we had a look round the olive trees and after the really spendy tourists had left the owner talked us through the olive oil producing process and showed us the machines. We were a month before havest so they were gearing up but he talked us through a tasting of the oils they produced which were awesome. There is somthing odd about drinking oil out of little plastic shot glasses but it was reaally tasty. We grabbed a few bottles for the journey (which we’re already thinking was too few) and headed for the planned campsite.
Again initial impressions of the place we stayed weren’t great, muddy pitches, a big site, pool closed (we think), but again we ended up having a lovely time. The site was big and not the sort of place we are usually drawn to, but we had two pitches next to each other, and we could be on the edge of the lake in a couple of minutes. Looking back from where we are now (yes, yes, we’re massively behind!!) we now know that Italian campsites are a bit different from the campsites we’d seen up to this point. You generally get less space for your money and so we kept having the feeling we were properly cheek and jowl with people. Not always bad but on a bigger site can feel overbearing. Enough waffling…we had a very chilled few days with a trip to the beautiful but packed Sirmione, and every evening with the kids watching the sun going down over Lake Garda which isn’t something many campsites can give you!
We left Garda on the Friday to move onto the next bit of family in the FAAAAMMMILY FORRRRNIGHT (please read in spooky voice)….meeting my cousin Peter!
Peter has lived in Italy for more than a decade now and we’ve never been over to visit him which makes us LAME. He has a house near Verona from when he worked there and it’s about five mins from the town of Soave and bang on the border between the Soave and Valpolicella wine regions (I know…sickening isn’t it ;O)). We left the Garda campsite on Friday morning, to make our way to Soave. A short stint on the motorway and we were parked up next to a big town fortified wall. We had a little walk through the town and it was beautiful. Picture what you would expect from this sort of place, on a hill (but not too hilly), few people about (but not too busy), hot (but not scorching) it was lovely. We had a wander up the hill to see the castle and then back down for a coffee. All very pleasant and chilled.
Since this was Friday Peter and his partner Anna wouldn’t be arriving from Florence until later on so when we left Soave we got ourselves camped on the drive (feeling a bit bad that our van blocked out most of the neighbours light as well as Peter’s!). We had dinner and got ourselves sorted to de-camp for…wait for it…a real bed for only the second time in three months. Mum and Dad stayed in their van so we could have the spare room which was really nice as the kids loved being in the house.
We had a few drinks when they arrived but all crashed pretty early after a long day. The next morning Dad, Peter, and I went out for a bike ride around some of the area. It was harvest time so while we were riding all the farmers were busy bringing in the grapes and we saw a few of the wine co-ops where they were lined up with their tractors waiting for their turn to have their trailer full crushed. That evening Peter took us to the local Pizzeria, lively and some of the best Pizza I’ve had, and frankly, I’ve had a lot!!! Although with a lot of vino, and limoncellos to finish, the end of the night is a little fuzzy!
Sunday we had a nice lazy start, a quick trip to the local wine co-op, then a walk nearby up and through the vines to enjoy the view. This was followed by an awesome lunch at the local agriturismo which is a family run restaurant where they grow about 80-90% of what they serve on their land. Including making a lot of the wine as well. The food was fantastic, even allowing for the fact that we’re awkward veggies so couldn’t take full advantage of the pigs “out back” (Peter made up for us though!). It was a really cool experience to go to a local place like this as we would never had known about it or whether we’d have been able to eat there if Peter and Anna hadn’t taken us and held our hands!
Then the exodus began, on Sunday evening Peter and Anna had to head back to Florence for work on Monday (Work…I remember that I think?!) followed the next morning by my Mum and Dad who were off to wend their way back north for their ferry. It was all a bit sad for a while, a bit like the end of the black forest time. The kids had loved having their Gramps around and were very sad when they left. They loved the times reading with Grandma, washing up with Grandad, and being pulled along by Fizzy!
Thanks for a lovely weekend guys…this is a rare shot where Anna wasn’t under a pile of our children! (I think she might be little Anna
We had a big day planned, which didn’t even include the crazyness of later on which i’ll get to. The plan had been formed from some disappointment. Ever since the Wankbahn (smirk) Aidan being a little disappointed that the top of Mount Wank (smirk) hadn’t been covered in snow, we figured that on our way through the Alps we’d be able to find Anna and him some snow and it became a bit of a challenge. I had looked at the ski resorts I knew had glaciers but they were all well out of our way and would’ve been a big detour. Luckily, the region of Salzburg does have a glacier with all the lifts to get to it…woop. The Kitzsteinhorn was right near Zell am See and not far off our route to get over to Italy. This was a budget buster but since it was something we couldn’t do anywhere else and something the kids had never done before we figured it was worth it….the glacier WAS ON!
An early goodbye to the campsite ponies and off up the valley past Kaprun to the foot of the Panaoramabahn (after previous cable cars the name was a bit of a let down but you can’t have everything). We bought our tickets and headed off up. This was fantastic for the kids as it was a proper ski resort setup with wireless passes and big lifts which they thought was brilliant. There was a big gondola and then a chair lift to get to the middle of the resort. Our first family chair lift…I think I was the most excited…and that’s saying something.
After the lift there was a quick (slightly over enthusiastic) purchase of sledges (the type that are a basically a plastic plate with a handle…I’m not made of money) we had pommes (chips for those without any German snack vocab…you losers) in the (trying to be) fancy (with the awning roof being blown off) restaurant. Then photos where we genuinely thought we might get blown away (little bit windy) before we headed up the cable car to the top. The cable car was a big one, heading right to the top, it was a proper “two cars alternatively being pulled up and down” one. I was looking forward to it as i’d not been on big one since Zermatt a few years ago.
This was where it got fun/exciting/HORRIBLE depending on whether you were Jayne or not. It was a little bit windy, only a little, to the point that they closed the cable car for 10-15 mins, but then realised it was only A LITTLE BIT WINDY and that they were obviously just being lame and re-opened. So we headed up. It was a little wobbly…kinda swingy…but mostly really bangy when it hit home at the top as it was swinging into the station. Maybe they should’ve given it 5 more mins for the wind to drop?
The station at the top was both quite cool and a bit disappointing at the same time. They’d obviously spent a lot of money on it, and the balconies to look out were amazing. There was a tunnel through the peak to see out the other side but no actual way to make it out onto the snow which made it feel a little bit fake, like Blofeld’s lair without the fun chases down the hill with machine guns. This sadly meant not kids sledging on a glacier, but I guess them blowing away wouldn’t have been great.
After having a look round and feeling again like we might blow away on the balconies we headed down (once Jayne had spent a few minutes in quiet contemplation of the ordeal to come). We then had a bit of time at the mid station finding enough snow for the kids to sledge and worked out that you don’t need that much…Aidan loved it and after a fair bit of that, followed by half an hour on the highest playground they’re likely to visit we headed back down to the van.
The text here probably doesn’t do justice to the mind blowingness for the kids, the scale of this stuff for them is just awesome and it’s so good to be able to bring them and see it being absorbed :O)
We had a cuppa at the bottom and sorted ourselves out for the drive. We planned to get through the alps and into Italy over the course of the evening (told you it was a big day!). The forecast wasn’t that good, rain overnight and snow higher up, which was either a reason to stay, or a reason to go depending on how you looked at it….we went.
The drive was fun for a long time, we went up and up and up on some amazing roads. We went through the biggest tunnel so far at about 5km (and 1600m up!) then started our way down. It’s hard to describe the roads here and on our trip we’ve seen some pretty impressive roads but these were the best so far. Half in the mountain and then suspended, half hanging off the side of the mountain, hairpins that jut out over the valley. All just crazy bits of engineering. We made our way down, and it started to rain, nothing major but annoying. We stopped in a lay-by for dinner right by a very serious looking river, it looked like it could have your arm off as soon as wash your little lay-by away (luckily it had the self control to do neither).
After dinner we forged on aiming for a cheap stop somewhere on the way to Lake Garda but the rain got heavier and heavier…and heavier. Then we hit the Italian border and the road got smaller…and bumpier…and the rain got heavier and heavier….yada yada. Eventually I just couldn’t see and realised it was all just a little too unsafe. At almost exactly the point I realised that piloting four tonnes of high sided box filled with my family down a windy road with zero visibility was not fun…there was a campsite sign…and it had space…but it was a campsite…oh the joy…the relief…I nearly cried when they had space….(and then lost my temper at Jayne when trying to get the van on the pitch basically blind…but lets not focus on that).
When we got up the next morning…
a) I hadn’t knocked anything over parking up…I was within about two inches of a lamp post…but that is just…ahem…precision.
b) The campsite was lovely, it was on a river, in the Dolomites, and had a mini zoo and a slackline.
We hung around for the morning and explored a little bit then packed up and moved on.
After the earlier than planned stop the previous day, Garda wasn’t really on the cards but my Mum and Dad didn’t mind heading a bit further north so we agreed on a campsite and motored that way. It was a long journey notable for an awesome stop at a cheese/wool making place for lunch and an amazingly rubbish wrong turn by me on the toll road that cost us about 40 mins. But eventually we made it to….Camping Mario Village…and there they were…the people that the kids (and us obv!) had been waiting to see…Grandma and Grandad Seppo!
Arrrrrghhhh, getting a bit behind on this blog malarky! In this easy going life, we’re feeling the pressure! We are now in Italy, so this update was soooooo 2 countries ago! Anyway, where are we? Ahhh yes, STILL in Germany. I say “still” as we’ve spent more time here than previously planned (not that there is a big plan) but this is the final leg of what has been an amazing tour of this lovely country. They have made it too easy and fun for us to want to leave! But Austria awaits and we have a rough date of meeting up with Grandma and Grandad Seppings somewhere near Salzburg in about 2 weeks. We need to move along the German/Austrian border to Salzburg quite quickly. We’ve been relatively still for two weeks in the Black Forest so should be ok for some bigger driving days. Life is now focusing on Lakes, and wow, what a collection of lakes we have seen!
Lake 1 – Lake Titisee
I had a good recovery overnight here in our quiet corner of a large carpark in Titisee and was up for a little meander into the very touristy town. The lake is really very pretty and would have been much nicer to have walked/cycled around it, but we embraced our situation and wandered around the tat shops, watched the huge steam train manoeuvring at the station, hired a pedalo and ate our packed lunch on the lake. I even invested in some Nordic style slipper socks as the cold mountain air that morning had made realise things could be getting chillier in the hills. Fab short day trip, and now a drive to; Lake 2 –Lake Constance
Oh my, what a stunning view of this lake as we drove over the last hill. It’s huge and has the snow caped mountains of Switzerland on the south side. We stayed 2 nights at a small campsite on the side of the lake. We didn’t really do much, just pottered around and enjoyed the warmish weather and the amazing view of the lake. See pics!
We packed up and set off early for our drive to Fussen where we chose a small car park stop on the edge of town. It wasn’t great but served a purpose and we had a brilliant afternoon/evening exploring this beautiful town right on the edge of the Bavarian Alps. We worked out a long walk along the river back to the van (luckily I had the sling for Anna) and there was a really interesting dam where you could get up close to the water pounding through the open sections – pretty amazing. Then we stumbled on a lovely playground at the edge of Lake Forggensee (Lake 3!!), Matt and I had a take away drink and sat in the sun while the kids played and it was nice to be among local families who were doing the same thing.
The next day we drove the short distance to the famous Neuschwanstein castle – it’s the one that the Disney castle is based on. We did have a really fun day here, with a castle tour, horse and cart ride back down the hill and some drinks and chips at a traditional beer hall. Oh and another lake. Lake 4 – Lake Alpsee. Such beautiful scenery,
After we left Schnitzmuhle we had a few days to cross Bavaria and meet up with THE ROBBOS up near Stuttgart.
Hop : Regensburg
Our first stop was Regensburg. We’d read that this was a nice stop where the old town wasn’t too spoilt by tourism. Naturally we tried to spoil it, but in the end it turned out to be one of the nicest short stops we’ve had. It has a university which always makes places feel a bit more lively and it’s also on the Danube. The river takes over the centre with three forks through, one being the massive ship canal and lock with the others are the old routes with islands in between and lovely parks. We stayed in a FREE park and ride carpark which was bizarrely about 10 mins walk from the centre (I’m obviously used to bigger cities!). We had a lovely walk around the centre in the afternoon and then the following day a lovely bike ride up to the dams and spielplatz upstream from town. As usual the playground was lovely and we had fun trying to do the outdoor gym equipment (some of which I couldn’t even reach…I’ve almost never felt so short…sob). I also managed a quick risky swim in the very fast flowing Danube with the water “boiling” around me.
One last thing i’ll remember from Regensburg was having a wander on my own in the evening, it was lovely and buzzy along the river and most of the walk there I was chatting to the guys from work on a video call. Nice to see friends from work and check in on Karl’s house warming…I wonder if any of you guys are reading any of this??? (That’s a cue for you to comment to prove you’re all still OK and will have me back??)
Skip : Erding
When we left Regensburg we hemmed and hawed about how to cover the ground we needed to over the next few days but we settled on skirting Munich and following the Danube west. We’d seen something about Munich airport having a good (and free) visitors centre and we thought that might be a nice stop with the kids (and planespotter Jayne!!!) so I picked a cheap stop near there. It was only when we were nearly there I realised it was in Erding. Now, the beer drinkers amongst you will know Munich is important and that weiss beer is big round there. There’s one that is probably bigger in the UK than the others and it happens to be one of my favourites, Erdinger, and we’d just parked two minutes from the brewery. Sadly I couldn’t get on any of the factory tours :O(.
The place we stayed was in the carpark of the MASSIVE Erding thermal spa pool complex (again something we hadn’t planned). We neeearly went to the pools but when we saw the price and worked out how much the kids would get out of it we quietly dropped the idea and stuck with the airport. That evening we had a massive windy thunderstorm and the van got rocked about loads, but it was quite cool with us all huddled on the kids bed watching out of the window.
Munich airport visitors centre was a really great stop for kids our’s age, lovely playground, big hill to stand on and watch the two runways, and a few old planes to climb in and look around. we spent the morning there and headed off to re-join the Danube.
Jump : Gunzberg
Nice little stop for eight euros or so, right on the Danube. We setup and had dinner then rode along the river for about 3 km all four of us on our bikes with little Anna doing loads! When we got back the kids made friends with some other girls on the campsite and ran about with torches until far too late :O)
This was another random stop that had more than we’d expected, here we were right in the carpark of the beautiful looking local outdoor pool. We didn’t have time to go which was a shame but we’ve found so many incidental things at these little local stops it’s been really interesting.
The next morning we got up and had a long motorway drive up to Stuttgart and through to the Black Forest. Autobahn 8 was really cool, weaving through the hills, but was quite busy and hard work to drive. We arrived a the campsite at 1 pm ready to meet the Robbos…..but where were they???…
We drove out of Berlin after five nights, still not sure we shouldn’t have stayed longer, but also itching to move on. Our plan was to head to Austria via the Czech Republic before meeting friends in the Black Forest, so again, south we headed.
The first stage of our “Post Berlin Period” was Saxony, we didn’t get long but what we saw we really liked. We’d managed a nice long run from Berlin and got right down to the top of Saxony to a good little campsite with a lovely swimming lake.
We knew we needed to make progress so we decided to forge on the next day, only to have an odd day of trying to visit Bastei and failing to get close enough for the kids to walk. In the end we found a lovely walk down to a crazily remote little restaurant in a gorge that we found almost by accident.
That evening we tried to find a cheap camp around a pretty town called Bad Schandau but failed, and then had our first “Sorry we’re full” experience. In the end we found a place that squeezed us onto their tent section and actually had decent wifi (campsite wifi is almost always crap) so we could sort out our plans.
Changing THE PLAN
We’d always intended on heading down to Austria straight after Germany and checking out the lakes before we met friends in the black forest, but, we we’re starting to come to terms with the distances we could cover and still enjoy ourselves. We worked out that the Austria plan was stressing us out because we were trying to squeeze two weeks of travelling into a week, which would have just been flogging ourselves and keeping the kids in their seats more than we wanted. We always said we’d rather see less but enjoy it on this trip and this was the first real time we had to change plans to enact that.
The NEW Plan
Work our way more directly to the black forest and head to Austria on the way to Italy rather than go out as far as Slovenia and Croatia. All of a sudden we felt happier, the distances were realistic! This meant we could drop into Prague and also check out Bavaria on the way through.
The next morning we headed off for a couple of hours drive to get to Prague. We felt like we were missing out on Saxony but it had been an unexpected stop that was beautiful and again we felt like we were leaving without really exploring. We chalked it up as yet another place that would stand a couple of weeks holiday at a later date. The trip to Prague was nice and easy, the border crossing into the Czech Republic was a little odd as the road suddenly got worse and there were lots of rough looking tourist shops selling mostly wooden windmills..errr…ok??? It really made us laugh and then a whole class full of children on a trip started randomly waving at us. We weren’t used to border crossings being anything more than signs, but then we got on the motorway and all was ok and boring again!!
Prague was lovely, after an initial false start where we got thrown off a campsite. We arrived at a place we’d picked from googly maps which turned out to be someones garden. After flawlessly manoeuvring the beast down a steep drive and into a spot only about a foot bigger than the van Anna cried too loud for the owner. “Just leave….she is crazy!”…or maybe she’s just three? For the best…didn’t want to stay there anyway ;O). We then found a place just north of the city which was much less uptight and had the amazing boast of having “up to date sanitary facilities” renovated in just 1992!! They had the feeling of a south american prison…but the rest was nice and relaxing.
We had a nice bus and tram ride into the city, a poke about town and….ICE CREAM. We also found an amazing buffet style veggie restaurant for lunch that was full of locals where we piled our plates high to offset the slightly bread heavy diet we’ve had of late.